We didn’t end up in Winnipeg on purpose. The original plan was to drive to Fargo, North Dakota. I had taken a Greyhound bus through Fargo twenty years ago and had some dim memory of a quaint Sinclair Lewis-y Main Street, complete with three-story brick buildings and striped awnings. I wanted to see it again. So we set off, planning to hit Fargo. And maybe, possibly, we would cross the Canada border while we were up there. It’s so close – why not?
We didn’t want to spend any PTO time on this trip, so we took off after work on a Friday evening and planned to be back home sometime on Sunday afternoon. This meant we would need to take I-94 to get to Fargo quickly. Any other time we try to stay off those soul-crushing interstates.
We arrived in Fargo after about four hours of podcasts, the Road Trip Alphabet game, and a stop for fast food. Maybe two stops. (Hey, fast food on the road just tastes better.) We found a Days Inn on the outskirts of town, did some swimming, and then settled into the serious business of trying to find the HBO channel on the TV.
From Fargo, you can take I-29 up through Grand Forks and eventually across the border into Canada. But we took the slower path up North Dakota’s Route 81 a bit further to the west. There was a serious rainstorm in that area, heavy enough that we had to sit in a parking lot in Grafton for awhile to let it pass. I hate driving in rain, but the sound of it hitting the car roof has to be one of the most beautiful sounds in the world.
In Hamilton, we cut back over to I-29 and headed on up to the border crossing at Pembina (US side) and Emerson (Canada side). It was simple enough to cross – the agent looks at your passport and waves you in. But if you want to get your passport stamped, you have to park and go inside the building. Which we did (because we’re stamp whores) and promptly ran into trouble.
Apparently my husband’s name showed as being flagged in their system. You should know that everyone in the world has my husband’s name – literally everyone. It took a lot of questioning and keyboard typing before they figured out that my husband wasn’t that husband and they let us go. But not without giving us our passport stamps first. Worth it!
The drive between the border and Winnipeg is pretty flat and uneventful. The most exciting part was seeing road signs in French. Again, that was the most exciting part. But when we finally hit the outer suburbs of Winnipeg, I was pleasantly struck by how European-IKEA everything looked. I expected it to be like any midsize northern U.S. city, and was surprised to find that it really did feel like another country. Which it actually is, Stupid.
We checked into the downtown Winnipeg Radisson Hotel. The price was right, and the location made a great base for exploring downtown when you only have a few hours to do anything. We headed out and explored the area on foot for the rest of the afternoon and evening, including down by the waterfront and The Forks, a huge public space with a beautiful park and playground.
Downtown Winnipeg is surprisingly pretty. Beautiful skyscrapers are mixed in with historic buildings, and quiet, picturesque side streets let out onto busy boulevards. The city is so incredibly diverse, every beautiful shade of brown can be found here. This is always a huge plus for our little tri-racial family.
We had dinner at the quirky Across the Board Game Cafe. They have an extensive library of board games, making it a great place for kids. The staff will even help you find the right games to keep the kids (and adults) entertained. We ended up playing Labyrinth, a somewhat difficult puzzler that our 8-year old actually really liked. He liked it so much that we got it for him Christmas a bit later – just in time for him to not like it anymore.
On Sunday morning, we indulged in one of our favorite pastimes: driving around rich neighborhoods, looking at houses. We do this on almost every road trip. You know the quickest way to find the rich neighborhoods in any large city? Pull up a map on your phone and look for large green park spaces with a bunch of surrounding streets that end in cul-de-sacs. Rich people love cul-de-sacs.
After we had our fill of looking at houses we’ll never own, we started on the drive back home. We drove straight through from Winnipeg, back to Fargo and across Minnesota to the Twin Cities. We didn’t have time to stop and mess around in small towns. We had to work on Monday.
Drive time: 8 hours one way between Minneapolis and Winnipeg via interstates
Major rest stops: St. Cloud, Fargo, Grand Forks
Where we stayed: Days Inn in Fargo and Downtown Radisson in Winnipeg
Where we ate: Across The Board Cafe
Must see: The Forks in Winnipeg
Other notes: You must have a passport to cross the border!